Ambitious chef-restaurateur Corey Lee (Benu, Monsieur Benjamin) has had an enviable career already at a young age, having earned three Michelin stars at Benu, helmed the kitchens at The French Laundry and Per Se before that, and having worked alongside many of the world's most renowned and respected culinary figures. Now his latest project In Situ, set to debut at SFMOMA June 14, is an homage to the work of many of these chefs treating their signature dishes from some of the world's best restaurants as scripts to be reproduced, almost like a touring company of a Broadway show.
We first heard about the project last fall, and as the Chronicle tells it, Lee has "worked with nearly 100 chefs from around the world, ranging from Alice Waters of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse and Rene Redzepi of Copenhagen’s Noma to Adeline Grattard of Paris’ Yam’Tcha and Rodrigo Oliveira of Sao Paulo’s Mocoto." And he sees the mission of In Situ as like that of a choreographer recreating the work of someone who came before but in this case, he's contacted all the chefs whose work he's reproducing in order to get their guidance, and blessing.
The idea is nothing new in the food world chefs often riff on each others' work, and refer sometimes explicitly to the work of great masters on their menus. Eater wrote a whole piece on the concept of attribution and chef's swiping each others innovations back in 2012, because with the rise of the technical innovations of modern cuisine, in particular the work of Ferran Adria at El Bulli in Spain, there was much discussion about giving credit where credit is due. That is, in part, what In Situ aims to do, while also allowing people to taste, first-hand, replicas of things they may only ever have seen pictures of.
For those not obsessed with the world of fine dining and high-end destination restaurants around the globe, this could sound pretentious, even tedious, but it feels appropriate that a museum like SFMOMA, especially with its recent expansion and expanded 20th Century collection, should have a unique destination restaurant of its own with a mission informed by the art world itself. Per a release, "In Situ curates a revolving collection of culinary influencers, innovators and icons to make their contributions accessible for greater public engagement."
The dishes will all be a la carte, one dish per chef, all priced around $30 which while not cheap is a far cry from the hundred one would pay to have tasting menu experiences at the restaurants of these chefs. Examples we're given are "buttermilk fried chicken and pine salt (Isaac McHale, London), Octopus and the Coral (Virgilio Martinez, Lima, Peru) and guinea fowl larp chiang mai (David Thompson, Bangkok)." And earlier Lee mentioned "There will be black tie scallops from New York City’s Daniel Boulud, ceviche from Peru’s Gaston Acurio, shrimp and grits from NYC’s Wylie Dufresne, dishes from Daniel Patterson, René Redzepi, Thomas Keller, Alice Waters and more."
And even if the dishes seem a little disjointed and disconnected from each other, Lee thinks that's OK. He tells the Chronicle, "We’re not trying to offer it as a restaurant experience. We’re hoping it’s a fun and engaging cultural experience in the SFMOMA."
Reservations will be coming available for In Situ starting on Saturday, June 11, with doors opening on the 14th.